Life in Pre-Revolutionary France: A Society on the Brink

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Life in France Before the Revolution


In the countryside, French agriculture (farming) in the 1600s was less effective and less modernized than other European countries. They used out-of-date methods and made much less profit. Almost all peasants who worked on farms couldn't read or write and worked long, brutal hours for a poor quality of life. City peasants were homeless, criminals, thieves, and prostitutes.


The bourgeoisie was France's middle class. Many were businessmen and merchants. However, their ability to make a profit was severely hampered by laws and regulations. Some individuals and groups (guilds) held advantages (monopolies) over the production of certain goods.


Noble Rank


Christian Church

Louis XIV (14th) - The Sun King

"The Sun King" - the name he gave himself. He thought he was the center of France and people's lives. "Etat c'est moi": I am the nation. He forced nobles to live in his palace in Versailles with him, and he approved or disapproved of every aspect of their lives (He forced them to learn ballet!)

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette, a member of the Austrian royal family (so people didn't trust her immediately), loved fine things like jewelry, fancy clothes, and customs. She thought that peasant life was "cute" and did not realize it was horribly difficult.

The Estates General - Why Was the Balance of Power Unfair?

  • The First Estate: The Clergy
  • The Second Estate: Aristocrats
  • The Third Estate: The middle class

The Fall of Bastille

But the peace did not last long. Violence was getting out of control. Riots continued over the high price of bread, and Louis hired foreign mercenaries to try to suppress the rioters. On July 14th, 1789 (now Bastille Day in France), a huge mob attacked the Bastille royal prison. All seven political prisoners were released, and the mob cut off the governor's head and paraded it through the streets!

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Also, in August 1789, the National Assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Like the American Declaration of Independence, it sets out basic human rights and the powers of government. It guaranteed:

  • Freedom of thought, speech, religion, security, property
  • Limited the powers of government

They then started working on a new constitution and seized church property to be sold off, the money to be assigned to the people.

The Legislative Assembly - Right Wing Political Views vs. Left Wing Political Views

It was formed and tried to create a workable government. But too many groups didn't agree with each other:

  • Radicals wanted a republic
  • Moderates wanted a constitutional monarchy
  • Monarchists wanted to restore the king's powers

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